How Did You Get Into This Field?

One of the best ways to ensure high quality ophthalmic diagnostic images is to first establish a rapport with the patient. Once you’ve gained their trust you can easily guide them through the sometimes uncomfortable or stressful process of obtaining information that may determine their diagnosis and influence treatment decisions. Chatting them up a little usually helps to ease their nervousness.  This friendly interaction often leads to some interesting conversations.

Patients who undergo ophthalmic imaging for the first time are especially amazed by the whole experience. They are fascinated by the technology used and the incredible images we are able to obtain.

But they also want to know a little about the qualifications needed to perform these tests. They may ask questions like, “What is your job called?” Or, “How long have you been doing this?”  “Do you need to be a doctor to do this?” But the most common question I get is, “How did you get into this field?” I usually chuckle and then give them my stock answer, “I’m still trying to figure out how that happened!” I go on to explain it’s not something I set out to do as a profession.

Their next comment is usually, “You must have gone to school a long time, or have a special degree, in order to do this.” They are shocked when I tell them that most people in the field were trained on the job and that there aren’t any specific educational or licensure requirements.  It seems to put them at ease when I tell them that I hold multiple certifications in ophthalmic imaging. This speaks to the value of achieving and maintaining voluntary certification.

So how does one get started in this field?

There’s no one “right way” to become an ophthalmic imager. In the absence of formal training or degrees in our profession, most of us learn the majority of the required skills on the job. My background was in commercial photography and I gradually learned enough ophthalmology to apply my photographic skills to imaging the eye. There are many others in the field with a background in photography. Others started as medical assistants or technicians and then learned the photographic side of things on the job. The point is that very few of us set out to become an ophthalmic photographer and one day find ourselves working in the field and learning many of the requisite skills on the job.

One of the problems with OJT is that it is often limited to what is being done in that particular practice setting. To get started in the field or obtain more comprehensive training and  expand your skills you may want to take a look at some currently available resources such as text books, online tutorials here on as well as educational resources through these sources:

So how did you get started in this field? I’m curious to see others’ journey. Feel free to post your story in the comments section below.

4 thoughts on “How Did You Get Into This Field?”

  1. Tim, you know my career history is as convoluted as the next, but in some way it was direct, along with the luck of being in the right place at the right time. I started wanting to be a physician and began college as a Biology major, but soon transferred to RIT where they offer a degree in Biomedical Photographic Communications (I had been an amateur photographer since junior high school). The program at RIT was diverse and required a Summer Internship. I happened on an internship in ophthalmic photography and work in the eyecare arena stuck. That was 42 years ago!

    The career ride since that time as an early ophthalmic photographer became twisted depending on where I was working and what skill set was required; it varied from surgical assistant, to eye banking technician, to ophthalmic assistant, back to ophthalmic photographer, then optician, to my last “clinical” job as a contact lens specialist. Along with those jobs came various voluntary certifications including the track COA to COT to COMT, (Certified Ophthalmic Medical Technologist) as well as, CRA (Certified Retinal Angiographer), ABOM (American Board of Opticianry – Master) and NCLE-AC (National Contact Lens Examiners-Advanced Certified). As a specialty contact lens fitter, I also tested and became a FCLSA (Fellow of the Contact Lens Society of America). I also served on the Board of Directors of multiple professional organizations and lectured and published for numerous years.

    About 20 years ago, I hopped the fence to the corporate and marketing side of eyecare, where it became too time consuming to maintain all of my certifications, so I maintained the two that I worked hardest for – COMT, CRA. In the last half of my career, I’ve been blessed with helping bring many exciting technologies to market and train doctors and staff how to use them. I’ve worked as as Clinical Consultant, Sales Executive, and my entrepreneurial spirit allowed me to launch both educational companies and sales organizations along the way.

    I obviously agree that there doesn’t have to be a direct route to a successful and enjoyable career; there were always many job opportunities along the way. One needs to find them and having a “gotta wanna attitude” helps immensely.

    That history sounds like I did quite a bit of job hopping and early in my career that was true – 1 to 3 years here and there – then a 19 year stint in a multiple doctor ophthalmology practice. On the corporate side, my longest appointment was 8 years with a large company, with a few shorter term positions before and after it. I personally wouldn’t have wanted to work and live my career in eyecare differently. I’ve been skilled in many facets in this industry, but very lucky with the job changes and wonderful opportunities.

  2. Tim
    I, like many, fell into the field. I started as a surgical nurse in the military, and worked in a civilian hospital after the service. One night, I was called in for an emergency retinal detachment (this was 1989, when we did those sorts of surgeries at all hours of the night). After the case, the surgeon asked if I had ever considered working in a practice, as he was in need of someone. I took the job, not knowing a thing about working in the office. The first task I was trained on was doing visual fields, and my thought was “there’s no way I’m doing this the rest of my life”. After working as a tech for a few months, I noticed this big machine in a closet with a sheet over it. I poked around and found a manual for the piece of equipment and taught myself how to use it. That was a Zeiss FF4, and it launched my interest and career from that moment on. Fast forward almost 30 years, and I’ve worked in many practices, sat on boards, lectured about a thousand times, started a consulting business and authored 3 textbooks. Quite a ways from that kid that sat behind a visual field machine bored out of his mind.
    I continue to learn and push boundaries in our field, and am excited for the next 30 years in the field! (just kidding- retirement is looming….)

    1. Good one Darrin. For those that grumble about the future of our profession because of automation, I tell them there will always be a place for leaders, educators, and high-level imagers in our field. So rather than be that bored kid at the visual field, I tell them they should follow your lead and find ways to learn new skills and position themselves to become a leader/innovator/educator.

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